“The importance of diversity in books”, “diverse characters – tokenism or important?” and my personal favourite, “is diversity really that important?”
Every time I see a convention panel discussion with a name like this, my eyes roll so hard I end up chasing them across the floor.
Let’s be honest, here. The publishing world is very, very good at talking about things that matter. Unfortunately, when it comes to doing something about it, we tend to hold up our hands and say “we’re swamped already!”
That’s partially true. In a world where the average author royalty payments barely cover the electricity for their laptops, publishers (especially small publishers!) have to work overtime just to be heard above the razzle dazzle of the latest Big 5 bestseller. Just look at how long it took for the Big 5 – with all of their resources and full-time employees – to fully embrace eBooks. It’s only been in the last few years that their websites have been even remotely pleasant to visit.
But this has to start changing. Now.
To answer the above in order, “Very”, “Important”, and my personal favourite, “No shit.”
We all know that representation matters, not just in the boardroom or on convention panels, but actually in the books that we work so hard on. We have all experienced the power of reading about a character that’s like us without being a gross tokenism.
You mean the ones that are marketed solely because of the sexual orientation of their main character? Or the fact the clever, handsome protagonist is black? The ones where the publisher expects a pat on the head and a biscuit and told that they’re being sooo progressive?
(There go my eyes again!)
Okay, I should clarify here. All of those titles are important. I’m not denying that for a microsecond. But while we’re still hung up in amazement at this handful of books, we’re perpetuating the fact that these books are ‘not normal’. (After all, there’s a difference between being vocally supportive of these books, and acting with astonishment every time a big publisher deigns to print an inclusive title that isn’t then marketed as ‘edgy’ or even one of their ‘next big hits’).
Honestly, the whole inclusivity thing has never been something we’ve given much active thought to until pretty recently. It was always part of the stories that our authors told – right from the beginning. That this view on inclusivity is in our DNA as part of our core values makes it easier for us to wipe the sleep from our eyes and start being more vocal about the how, why, and what of this side of our process.
As I said above, it’s time to stop talking about diversity, and actually start to do something about it. Publishers, authors and readers have an obligation to move the stagnant ‘status quo’ forward. And yes, all readers and all publishers and all authors.
I’ll be writing many more blog posts in much more detail over the coming months, but here’s one simple idea to kickstart the process.
Ask people what they’re doing about it.
Whenever you hear someone start talking about diversity in fiction, or asking whether it’s important, this comment has served me well. “No shit. Of course it’s important, so what are we actually doing about it, other than sitting around preaching to the converted?”
As a first step, the mild shock and (usually) indignation is enough to start the ball rolling. “I’ve been commenting on cast diversity whenever I review a book,” or “I choose every character’s ethnicity instead of defaulting to white,” or even, “I haven’t mentioned the LGBT character in this book we published in the primary marketing materials.”
Oh, and let’s actually stop asking “Is diversity in books important” as well, shall we? Just asking that question suggests the possibility that it might not be important. Quite frankly, that shouldn’t even be up for debate.
It’s 2017 folks, let’s move on. The devil has enough privileged advocates already.